Fighting health disparities through FAITH!
“I was a part of a church that was very close-knit and family-oriented,” said Dr. LaPrincess Brewer. “We had this sense of when one person was suffering, we all are suffering. You can’t just let someone be alone and not offer them any assistance.”
The journey of Dr. Brewer began in the Black church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her upbringing in the church provided her with a spiritual foundation and a deep sense of servitude.
Unfortunately, while she was growing up several members of Dr. Brewer’s congregation prematurely passed away from hypertension, diabetes and obesity, all conditions that preventative care could have kept under control. These tragic premature deaths ultimately inspired her to pursue medicine and public health.
The church exposed Brewer to community outreach, which has stuck with her throughout her education and career. Between her third and fourth year at George Washington University School of Medicine, Brewer decided to take a year to pursue her Master of Public Health in epidemiological and biostatistical methods for public health and clinical research at Johns Hopkins University.
Brewer pursued this academic path to combat the disparities she observed while growing up and attending school in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.
During a health promotion course, Dr. Brewer and her peers were assigned to create a sustainable program that addressed chronic diseases and health disparities in Baltimore. Her group ultimately decided to partner with a Black church near the university.
Even though the church was so close that the Johns Hopkins University sign was visible from the church’s steps, no one from the school had ever considered working with the Black congregation. Dr. Brewer and her group created FAITH!—Fostering African Americans’ Improvement in Total Health. The program focused on chronic disease prevention through healthy eating and nutrition education.
“We wanted people to see others that looked like them, but we also wanted to present topics that they wanted to hear,” explained Brewer. “We didn’t want to just come in as the experts saying this is what we think you need. We wanted to know what they needed and wanted. Then, we presented that information to them, and we loved it.”
They held a summer series with health professionals from Hopkins that included cooking demonstrations with local Black chefs, reading food labels, and learning to manage diabetes and hypertension through diet and lifestyle.
After completing her residency at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Brewer was accepted to the Mayo Clinic Cardiology fellowship in 2012. After arriving in Rochester, she’s tailored her FAITH! Program to the local Black faith community and introduced it in five churches.
At first, the work was solely carried out through in-person workshops. The program has since transitioned into mobile health technology with her app FAITH!
FAITH! will include education modules featuring health professionals from Mayo Clinic, fitness videos, and syncing abilities to Fitbit to track diet. There is also a sharing board similar to Facebook or Twitter where participants can share tips, successes and challenges with their healthy living journey. Additionally, Dr. Brewer and her team will have the ability to moderate and post relevant health information for African Americans.
FAITH! is currently in the research prototype phase. Upon release, Dr. Brewer hopes that the app will be available for download from Mayo Clinic or another professional society such as the American Heart Association for any church to use.
While the app is not available for the general public, the Facebook page FAITH Cardiovascular Health and Wellness provides an abundance of information. There are at least four posts a day related to heart health, health and wellness, community-based resources, inspirational scripture passages, and COVID-19.
“If you’re trying to recruit people into a clinical trial or even promote health and wellness, you can’t ignore what’s going on in society right now. We had to pivot and focus on some COVID-19 initiatives.” said Dr. Brewer.
Her “labor of love” last summer was a partnership with Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul. Open Cities became a testing site, but its effectiveness was hampered by the slow testing turnaround. Results sometimes took a little over a week to process.
Brewer, through Mayo Clinic, established a drive-through and walk-up COVID-19 testing site with results delivered within 24-48 hours. The work of the collaborative was published in the Journal of Public Health early this year. This testing initiative’s primary successes were the convenience, the outdoor safety, and that it was held at a trusted community clinic.
“I think it takes a conscious effort to listen to people and not dismiss their concerns,” said the doctor when asked about how she works to address concerns and mistrust surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccine. Brewer’s testing partnership with Open Cities led to her and Mayo’s current efforts to promote and administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
Several churches in the Twin Cities that have previously partnered with FAITH, including Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and New Hope Baptist Church, have started community drive-through clinics.
They hope to spread the word through a barbershop talk held in the barbershop of Vision Church. During this talk, Mayo Clinic health professionals will answer questions about the vaccine and promote the community vaccination clinic that FAITH! plans to hold at the church. The goal is to make sure the congregation and community members know that this service is out there and it is for them.
Brewer’s passion for service through medicine and love for her church community has driven her to touch the lives of thousands. “I didn’t really feel that I belonged until I had acceptance from the African American faith community. I just felt like once they really embraced me, we’ve never looked back.”
Khalifa Uchechi welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.